Meditation at Doi Suthep

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The view from my room at the centre

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The small temple where we could practice meditation

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Me being amused at the cat advertising the loo roll. This amusement wasn't to last long!

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My daily timetable

Before I went to the meditation centre I was really worried about only having two meals a day and to a lesser extent giving up my nightly breath of fresh air. Luckily, after a first difficult day, I got used to the rhythm of the day there and was able to not eat after noon.

The real challenge was the amount of time to meditate. As you can see from the timetable we had roughly 7.5 hours a day to individually meditate. This is a long time even if it is in chunks of several hours each. So I would change location during the day. The little temple above was where I would practice post lunch. Only one other person used it while I was there so it was a good place to practice. That and I found it very restful.

There was another room with several long carpets for you to practice walking meditation that would be my morning spot. In the evenings we would chant which brought me back to my catholic up bringing. Sanskrit is alot more complicated than Latin however. Nonetheless it was one of the parts of the day that I most enjoyed. The other was the 5.30am dhamma talk given by the monk. This talk would be about how to approach life and the monk would regularly remind us not to be consumed with dislike of others. In the seclusion of the centre, with no communication between novices, this reminder seemed unnecessary. But now back in the world where people let you down it is a good reminder. The monk was very funny and would tell us funny stories to illustrate the Buddhist values.       
       

I actually enjoyed my time there, and extended my stay so I was there Mon-Fri. I didn’t manage the not talking part but that’s not surprising is it! On my last full day I went up to the big temple and had a walk around.

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On my last night I went to the viewing spot to see over Chiang Mai. It felt very naughty to be out past bedtime but the view was incredible.

After this I went back to the old city and had two great evenings with old friends and new. I stayed in a homestay in a traditional Thai house which was a great experience. The host was super nice and on my last night we sat around eating Thai food, listening to traditional folk songs sung acapella.

(Chiang) Mai, Mai, Mai!

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Up in the mountains for meeting the elephants.

Wow! So so much has happened since the last time I blogged. I went to meet the elephants which was a scary but moving experience. There were lots of comedy moments as my shoes, yes my walking shoes, were not suitable for walking the kilometre down to the spot where the elephants were. I basically slid, fell and at times had to have both my hands held to get me there.

The fun didn’t end there. At the mud bath the Thai keepers thought it would be great to start throwing mud around so imagine me covered in mud from head to toe in a stream with several elephants.

It was one of those experiences that is both surreal and fills you with awe. The elephants weren’t afraid of us at all, especially when we had bananas on us. They absolutely adore the water and would have happily stayed bathing for hours. The trip we took was a non riding one and the elephants roam wild so it was unique experience to be so close to them and observe them in their natural habitat. For example I didn’t realise elephants have hair all over their bodies, nor that their skin glistens when wet.

The alfresco lunch was amazing, especially when one of the clever elephants came to join us. After he had raided our table, he ambled over to the kitchen and would have eaten all the food there if not ushered away!

I continued to slip in the stream, in the rocks and pretty much on every surface I could. We were taken to an amazing waterfall to wash off. The water was so powerful it was like getting a massage.

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If you can’t take the heat- stay out of the kitchen!

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Drunken noodles

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Spring rolls made by my own fair hands

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The prep for chicken in ginger

So the day after meeting the elephants I I went to my cooking class. I haven’t got pics of everything as I learnt how to make 6 dishes! Not pictured is the hot and sour soup, yellow curry or banana in coconut milk. All fantastic. The class was great fun and I was absolutely stuffed afterwards.

The secret to Thai cooking? Heaps of fresh ingredients, sugar and oyster sauce. I couldn’t believe that sugar was added to everything as was oyster sauce. Claire D- add both of these and dark soy sauce when cooking rice noodles! Will post a recipe you can try. I am keen to try out my recipes again in the UK though I fear that I will not be able to replicate the taste with the ingredient equivalents…

I won’t be able to post for a while as I am going to my meditation retreat tomorrow. No smoking and only two meals a day means that I am going to have a very large breakfast and lunch
before I arrive. Here are some pics of the last few days:
Monks celebrating Buddha’s birthday

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Detoxifying vegan salad at Amrit cafe- a perfect haven when I needed it today.

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Learning about Lanna culture at the folk museum this afternoon- i think we should bring back this form of courtship!

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Next time I blog it will be post meditation- wish me luck!

Chiang Mai – it’s all going to be happening here!

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Me hanging out in Wat Phra Singh

So I left you in Bangkok where it was hot, busy and still with more adventures to be had. However it was time for me to head north to Chiang Mai where I wanted to spend the bulk of my holiday. Why you ask? Mostly because I wanted to hang out with elephants, practice some meditation and learn to do some Thai cooking. But before I could do any of this, in Mangal tradition I took the train. It was a 12 hour journey made more pleasant by Dutch travel companions and the Thai novel ‘Four Reigns’ which gave an interesting insight into Thai culture. Regular tea and snacks also helped.

My first impressions of the old city as we drove through at night to my hostel were that it is small, geared up for tourism and much more relaxed than Bangkok. After spending a few days here-all of this is true.

I spent my first day wandering around the various Wats, getting slightly lost and propitiously (sp?) ordering tea. The heavens opened not once, not twice but several times that day but I had read about an open mic night at a jazz bar so decided to keep going despite my soggy feet. I found the delightful cafe ‘Into the woods’ and happily ate cake whilst reading Amy Tan’s autobiography.

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The open mic night was great. I got talking to some Texans and hung out with them; got a bit lairy with some 20 year olds and got a tuk tuk back to the hostel after a great night out. I am not a fan of jazz but live I found it more interesting. The quality was good and I will check more out in LDN.

Today I went to meet a friend in Chinatown and spent all my money on clothes. Not a bad thing you might say. However this clothing was two sets of white long sleeved tshirts and trousers. The uniform required for a beginner in Buddhism and meditation. I am all booked in for 4 days next week. It’s exciting but also scary. Scary because you only get two meals a day- one at 7am and the last at 11am. This is going to be a challenge to say the least. I guess I am going to learn some proper discipline.

Having got that sorted, I also decided to book a day with the elephants- happening tomorrow and also booked a cooking class for Friday. Saturday is my shopping, massage and rave it up day and Sunday is a chilled one as I am hoping to be hungover! Maybe I am planning too much given I was meant to be going with the flow but sometimes a little planning helps facilitate a good time…

Hopefully I have an amazing time!!